Friday, March 25, 2011

US Mission Pakistan: Who should get points for botched handling of Raymond Davis case?

I'm sure somebody would send me a nice email after this blog post saying the embassy handled the Raymond Davis case quite well.  After all, wasn't Mr. Davis pardoned, released, and now presumably back in the United States?

Sure, sure... but see now, I'm wondering how much goodwill the United States earned in the aftermath of the Pakistani floods remains after you subtract the Raymond Davis incident? The RD case will certainly have repercussions for years to come in that part of the world where the United States is already viewed as an enemy by a large swath of the population. Just how badly this was handled, let me count the ways.     

On February 15, SFRC Chairman John Kerry in Lahore expressed sorrow for the loss of lives in the Raymond Davis incident. Below is an excerpt.
“I’m here, because in the middle of events that seem to be focusing people narrowly, we need to remember and think about the things that we care about and that we’re both fighting for the bigger, the bigger strategic interests: stability in the region, opportunity for jobs for people, the right for people not to have their lives disrupted or ended suddenly and violently by radical extremists. This is in all of our interest. And these are the bigger issues that we need to be focused on and working hard. And we cannot allow one thing or another that might divide us in a small way to take away from the things that unite us in a big way.”

“So let me say, I know that in recent days emotions have been very stressed by an extraordinarily unfortunate incident involving a diplomat assigned to the United States Embassy. We’re all aware of that. And I want to come here today to express our deepest regret for this tragic event and to express the sorrow of the American people for the loss of life that has taken place. Personally, I’ve been through these kinds of losses. And I know the pain that the families of lost loved ones feel. I understand that…It is important, I think, and I express this on a very personal level, to understand the degree to which we really do feel the sorrow of what has happened and we express our sympathies to those families.”

“I’ve come here to listen. I haven’t come here to order anybody to do anything; I haven’t come here to dictate. I’ve come here to listen carefully, to meet with your leaders and have an opportunity to find a path forward so that we can all live by the law and hopefully find a way to deal with some really urgent pressing issues for both of our countries.”

Full text of Mr. Kerry's statement is here. I thought that was a just the right tenor with enough heart and empathy.

Photo from US ConGen Lahore

Why it took three weeks for somebody to say this out loud, I don't know.

Two days before the Lahore incident, Ambassador Cameron Munter and his wife, Dr. Marilyn Wyatt had a conversation with university students broadcast by PTV.  The American-style "town hall" titled "We Really Believe in You" was part of a series of efforts by the US Ambassador and his wife who now works for USAID to "meet Pakistanis from different walks of life and discuss their concerns and aspirations."

{Note to PAS Islamabad: whoever thought of that title ... that is a fantastically bad, cringy event title. Can't you hear how kon-duh-sen-ding that sounds? And please stop making the first couple at the mission do duet in videos. That is so Sonny and Cher!}

Anyway,, now that I got that off my chest -- the day after the Lahore incident, the embassy issued this very brief statement (01/28/2011):
January 28, 2011
Islamabad - A staff member of the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore was involved in an incident yesterday that regrettably resulted in the loss of life. The U.S. Embassy is working with Pakistani authorities to determine the facts and work toward a resolution.
On January 29, 2011, the U.S. Embassy Calls for Release of American Diplomat. In the same statement it says, "we regret that this incident resulted in loss of life."

It was an official statement, but there was no face to go with the regrets. Somehow the people-to-people diplomacy failed right there.

Then we had the State Department spokesman saying from the podium that Raymond Davis is not the correct name.  Pakistani press had previously identified the person arrested as Raymond Davis and Mr. Crowley said, "The name that’s out there is wrong."  That's the agency spokesman, folks; can't get more official than that. 

Which confuses the heck out of everyone. And led some local Pakistani papers to accuse Mr.Davis of using a fake identity, which in turn added fire to the blaze already burning hot in the streets of Pakistan. 

Heck, I even believed PJ, until I didn't.

Later, an embassy spokesman reportedly walked back Mr. Crowley's comments. That was super bad, okay?

On February 11, the US Consul General in Lahore, Carmela Conroy said, "This incident was a tragedy, and we feel tremendous sorrow over the loss of life. We extend our deep sympathy to all the family members who have been affected."

So almost two weeks after the incident, we finally had a face to go with the sorrow.

Then, of course, on February 15, we had Senator Kerry.

Two days after that the US Embassy in Pakistan issued a statement by U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter largely borrowed from Senator Kerry:
Islamabad - Reacting to today's hearings in Lahore, U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter said the United States is disappointed that the Government of Pakistan did not certify that Raymond Davis has diplomatic immunity. He added that the U.S. has made its position on this case clear.

 "Senator Kerry's visit to Pakistan manifested our intention to work with the Government of Pakistan to resolve this issue." Ambassador Munter said. "As the Senator said during his visit, we want to work together as two countries that have a common interest in the same goal and find a path forward."

Echoing Senator Kerry, the Ambassador added, "I would also like to convey to the people of Pakistan our deepest sorrow for the loss of life that occurred in the tragic incident in Lahore.   We all feel the pain and the anguish of families who have lost loved ones."

So, exactly three weeks after the incident, we had that odd, mostly borrowed statement. Like no one at PAS Islamabad had the time to write something a bit more original under the ambassador's name? Anyway, an official statement nonetheless. But. Three. Weeks.     

Which left us wondering -- how is it that the chief of mission and personal representative of President Obama in Pakistan was not the main public face expressing regret over this tragic incident?

Would an earlier expression of sorrow have helped this case? Perhaps not. But it's impossible to know that now.  Still, if you have watched the events unfolding in Pakistan, you would also see that the perceived bitter taste on how this incident played out will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Al Jazeera had an excellent rundown on the Raymond Davis case in Spy game: The CIA, Pakistan and 'blood money' . It may be that this was self defense, it may be that those killed were small pawns in a spy game gone sour. We'll never know now. But three people were dead, and soon there were four. And there was one man in jail. I doubt very much that Mr. Davis would have gotten a fair trial in Pakistan, there were dozens ubber ready to testify against him. There were more who wanted to just put a rope around his head and call it quits.        

Still -- I think that by not responding quickly and addressing the obvious human loss in understandable emotional terms, we allowed the anti-American forces in Pakistan to hijack the Davis case.  It made what was already a murky case, a public theater in wide angle with apportioned losses all around.  It gave those who hate America in Pakistan one more excuse to point at us and and claim arrogance of extreme proportion.  It was not a difficult sell in a country that already viewed America in unfriendly terms.

And by  they way, whoever feed that item about Raymond Davis as an incorrect name to the State Department spokesman, should be made to write a thousand times on the white board "I will not feed false information to the person who stands at the podium."  Because we all know that a few more things like that and the official spokesman's credibility would be a freakin' gaping hole in the dark.

And if that's not enough --  local news surmised that the US Embassy knew as early as March 10 that Davis would be released, as this was the date of Ambassador Munter's statement that was sent to the media when Davis was released on March 16.  The embassy spokesman later clarified that this was 'inadvertently' included in the statement.

Tzao gao! Mistakes were made!

In any case, I have to wonder out loud --  whatever happened to the embassy's huge public affairs "team?"  Islamabad is totally brimming with about a dozen public affairs professionals.  The constituent posts of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar each has its own PA team.  Altogether, I am told a total of 23 public affairs personnel for US Mission Pakistan.  But the response to the Davis affair feels like a a lumbering, smelly Bigfoot; far from smart, and far from agile engagement. Rapid response this was not, in the response that really mattered.  In fact, this was painfully slow, awkward and evasive. And it looks so tightly controlled you could see -- hey your purple slip is showing!

I call them teams but teamwork, of course, is more often, aspirational than reality in a place where strong individualism and competition can be called institutional DNAs.  Constituent posts do tend to lose their seats at the table, especially in high profile cases like this.  Was that what happened here?  Zzzzend me an email if you know the answer.      

And if this were the military, somebody would have already distributed a lessons learned memo or an After Action Report on the handling of the Raymond Davis affair.  But since this is State ... one gotta ask... anybody out there thinking about lessons learned or an FSI course? What? Speak up, I can't hear you. 

Finally, the old cynic that I am have to point out that April is just around the corner.  Regardless of how this played out, somebody lucky (could be somebodies) will have the RD affair etched in his/her/their EER/s! Ya'betcha!

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